Review of S. Lloyd 'The Feathered Tribes Of Van Diemen's Land'

by Jim Nelson

Feathered Tribes
Book cover

The Feathered Tribes Of Van Diemen's Land by Sarah Lloyd, Tympanocryptis Press (2015) pbk, 110 pages (ISBN 978 - 0 - 646-94414-2)

Birds are for the most part welcome companions in our lives. They play important roles in the ecosystem, while their presence and song can give us pleasure. It is not their purpose to enrich our lives, but they certainly can play such a role. Their absence would be a disaster ecologically as well as aesthetically. Nevertheless, for most people birds tend to just blend into the background of our busy daily lives.

Bird enthusiasts always seem to have an eye or ear at the ready no matter where they might be. Generally, the interest is not an obsession that takes over their lives, but is simply an appreciation for the richness that birds can bring. The wonders of birds stem from their incredible range of songs that fill the air (often seemingly with a sense of joy), to the great diversity of colours and flights to catch our eyes. Who among us has not wondered what it might be like to swoop through the air with such grace and ease?

In Tasmania, the term 'Birdos' is used for those with particularly strong interests and knowledge concerning birds. While many of us are happy enough to be able to identify our birds by sight and sound, the more dedicated are concerned with conservation issues, and devote time to regular monitoring to keep a close eye (and ear) for changes in populations. Thus, the level of interest can range from casual observer to dedicated involvement.

Whatever the level of involvement with birds, it is always useful to have a good reference at hand. These can range from a book with every bird known in Australia, to local guide books. Most bird enthusiasts have a number of books, and may carry a few with them when out bird watching. Larger books can be a nuisance when identifying birds in a particular area, where often one just wants a quality picture that makes the process quick and easy.

So, what might be required of a bird book other than an appropriate size to carry and good photos for quick identification? Well, Sarah Lloyd’s latest publication The Feathered Tribes Of Van Diemen's Land answers this question. This is not simply an identification book on Tasmanian birds, but also a tribute to their beauty and a guide to understanding them.

Sarah's wonderful photographs not only make for great identification of the bird in question, but also take bird photography into the realm of art. Many of the photos in this book are so stunning in their capture of the subjects as to make the book a pure aesthetic pleasure beyond mere identification. One can only wonder how many photos it took to select these images. For birds do not pose like models, but must be captured in the moment. Sarah has done some wonderful capturing, presumably over a lot of moments.

And Sarah's love for her subjects is similarly demonstrated in her descriptions of their habits and habitats – including fascinating things about their feathers, food, roosting sites, and how and why and in what order they sing in the dawn chorus.

Additionally and most importantly, Sarah provides sobering information relating to the variety of threats to birds. A lot has been packed into this book to make it much more than the usual identification reference. It functions fine for identifying birds, but its particular value is that it also passes on Sarah's knowledge and advice about how and why we need to look after them with good ecological practices and common sense. There are lessons and information here for us all.

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